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The St. Petersburg assembly in Russia has cast the final vote to pass a "homosexual propaganda" law, which would criminalize any positive mention of homosexuality with a $16,000 fine for an individual or $160,000 for an organization, The New York Times reports.
Despite criticism from the U.S. State Department and the international community, the bill passed by a nearly two-thirds margin. The measure bans pride parades, so-called gay propaganda, public discussion of homosexuality, bisexuality, or transgenderism, and any display of homosexual conduct which could potentially be seen by minors.
Proponents of the bill cite the susceptibility of children to such images and equate homosexual acts with bestiality and pedophilia. Those who oppose the bill have called it a Soviet-era attempt at censorship and an assault on free speech. Both sides have conceded that the bill is poorly written, complete with spelling errors and it has also been criticized as a political move gain conservative votes in upcoming elections.
"We are deeply concerned by proposed local legislation in Russia that would severely restrict freedoms of expression and assembly for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals, and indeed all Russians," Mark Toner, deputy spokesman for the U.S. State Department, said in a statement Wednesday. "As Secretary Clinton has said, gay rights are human rights and human rights are gay rights."
Over the last few months, dozens of protests have taken place in both St. Petersburg and in Moscow over the law and a similar one being considered in Moscow.
Russia legalized homosexuality in 1993 and it was removed from the listing of a mental illnesses in 1999. The Russian constitution does allow for laws that inhibit the rights of minorities that could be deemed as harmful to the majority. However, the constitution also stipulates that these laws must be passed at the federal level, which gives opponents of the St. Petersburg bill standing to challenge it in court now that the legislature has officially approved it.